To clarify: We’re talking about learned screaming. We’re not talking about a child who’s screaming because he’s hurt and in true physical pain.
To end screaming, we need to first acknowledge the following:
If our child already has a big brain map that says SCREAM, we may initially need to do some groundwork to get back on track. Here are some ideas for different situations.
Yes, it’s hard to ignore our child’s screaming when we’re in our local grocery store, since people do stare. So that’s why we drive to a grocery store in another county—where we’ll never see those people again—and let our child wail away. Once in the car, we tell our child that screaming no longer gets our attention or prompts us to exit quickly.
Screaming at Home
We tell our child that he can scream for as long as he likes because we now enjoy screaming. So when he starts to scream, we encourage him to be even louder. We smile and clap our hands. We dance around him. We get the whole family to join in.
Why? Well, the brain becomes totally confused by this completely unexpected response. In fact, some kids just stop screaming—cold—while they’re trying to process it all. But the point is . . . if our child’s brain now perceives screaming as something fun for others (and he’s not part of that), then it no longer retains its old power.
If we know our child is more vulnerable to screaming when he’s tired or over-stimulated, we leave (wherever) before he gets to that point during this “re-educating” stage.
If our child is used to being embraced while screaming, we establish touching him in a way that differs from how we hold him while we’re (legitimately) comforting or being affectionate. For example, if we need to physically move our child while screaming, we now use a cold and impersonal touch.
Yuck and Yay
If we’re used to trying to calm our child down while screaming, we may need to adopt a simple one-word approach (especially if our child is very young). At the very first scream, we merely put our thumb down and say with a lot of presence: Yuck.
But that‘s it. We only get one yuck. Multiple yucks while the child continues to scream only results in giving the same attention as engaging in a conversation—and we don’t want that. Moreover, if our first yuck didn’t get the job done, it’s likely because we lacked a calm, but assertive, demeanor when saying it. So changing our presence—not repeating yuck—moves things forward. In contrast, we also need to reinforce when our child doesn’t scream by immediately saying: Yay!
If we have a screamer, we probably know what sets him off. So, we role play those situations, modeling different responses. For example, we might pretend we’re out shopping and model saying, “Mom, I’m really tired, and there’s so much noise in this mall. Do you think we could leave soon?” (Note that saying, “Use your words!” is not effective in eliminating screaming.)
And just as some folks need to chew gum when they initially give up smoking, some kids may need to adopt a silent scream during this transition period. To do so, they open their mouths as wide as possible and go through all the motions of a huge scream—but they just never use their vocal cords.
To help our child’s brain register that it is capable of being quiet, we may need to start with really short goals. For example, if we want our child to be quiet while we’re talking to someone else, we may set it up so that our child knows he’s going to be quiet for just 20 seconds. With that success, we build (at different times) to 30 seconds, 50 seconds, and so on.
The bottom line on screaming: Since no one in the world embraces this kind of response, there’s no time like the present to eliminate it.
What if our current finances cloud our ability to make decisions about programs for our kids?
There’s a simple way to prevent that from happening. We can either take money entirely out of the equation, or we can actually make it the entire focus.
Here’s what I mean. When we take money out of the equation, we pretend we’re Bill or Melinda Gates. That frees us to review a program solely on its merit. Since this is merely a mental exercise, we really don’t have to think about money at that moment.
We only bring money back into the equation if we conclude the program is something we’d like our child to participate in. And yes, at this point, we have to consider our current finances.
But since we’ve already decided our child would benefit from the program, we’re now more likely to explore creative solutions to make it happen. On the other hand, there’s no chance our child participates if we go straight to: We can’t afford it.
The opposite mental exercise (putting money into the equation) can also be helpful if our child is participating in or offered a free program. Here, we ask ourselves: Would I actually pay for this service if my child couldn’t get it for free? If the answer is no, then we may want to reconsider whether or not our child should participate.
You might be thinking . . . But why would anyone opt out of something that doesn’t cost anything?
If a program isn’t a good fit for our child (i.e. we wouldn’t pay for it ourselves), there can be a definite downside. Our child probably doesn’t have more spare time to participate in another program that better meets his needs. Or, if we try to cram that better program in as well, we risk putting our child on overload.
And what if our child doesn’t benefit after participating in various free programs? We may then shut down when we hear about yet another program. We become like folks who resist riding in taxis because they’ve already spent so much time on free buses that took them nowhere.
So that’s why we need to “play” with money in our mind. After all, it doesn’t cost us anything to do so, and it just may shine a new light on our decisions.
The Fialco family makes me wonder if there isn’t a lot more untapped parent power out there, just waiting to surface.
Their multimedia project, Starabella, features an unconventional heroine, a kindergartner with autism, who connects with her peers through her gift of music. The trailer is a good watch for both parents and kids—especially since there’s a story behind the story. The books were inspired by the experiences of Sharon Fialco’s daughter, Tara, who has autism. The story behind the story gets even better: Tara composed and performed 17 of the 22 songs on the CDs.
I like the message of this project—one of acceptance—but I also like that it reminds us that, as parents, we can do more than just wish that something might be different for our kids. We may actually have the power to bring about positive change.
And, no, it doesn’t have to be some huge project. For example, if we don’t like that kids are running “wild” at recess, maybe we can organize a group of parents to lead some activities for those kids who would benefit from a more structured recess. Or, if we’re upset that the school bathrooms do not have soap (true example), we can offer to approach concerned parents to see if they might collectively donate a year’s supply.
When my kids were young, I wanted them to have a sense of school community, yet there wasn’t one school-wide program on their site to bring the students together. So with the blessing of the staff and a crew of enthusiastic parents, we brought an amazing hands-on ocean program to their school. Almost two decades later, all of the students still engage in this program each year.
So what are other examples of positive parent action? Share your experiences with us! As parents, the more examples we learn about, the more we may be inspired to act on our own.
As parents, we’re wired to protect our kids at all times. But what happens when we react without thinking through the consequences?
Last week a dad was arrested for coming onto a school bus and screaming profanities to those who had been bullying his daughter who has cerebral palsy. Once the story hit the media, the man received a lot of support and empathy from other parents, especially after he stated that he felt this was his only recourse when the school and bus driver did nothing to help his child.
I’m with the group who doesn’t think the man should have been arrested for trying to protect his daughter. But I always find myself asking questions when situations are not so clear cut, and several come to mind with this incident:
• Was his daughter actually safer after he went on the bus?
• Since he threatened the kids collectively, could that also be considered a kind of bullying in itself?
• Did the other kids on the bus (who were not involved in the bullying) feel unsafe by the father’s actions?
• If his daughter was not safe on the bus, then why was she still riding on it?
So what might have been a different option when the school was not responsive?
The father could have written the school board that he was keeping his child home from school every day until they could prove that all kids were safe on the bus. He could have also solicited as many parents as possible to do the same, noting that any child on the bus could be the bullies’ next victim. This type of action would have likely caught the media’s attention to do a story, especially since bullying has become a hot topic.
And why might the school have responded to the above solution and not the father’s individual calls? Namely, unexcused absences cost the schools a lot of money that they cannot afford to lose. Also, school board officials are elected, so they try to avoid negative publicity whenever possible.
Sure, we’d all prefer that school officials would act solely out of sheer concern for a child. But we may have to settle for finding other ways to motivate them.
In short, there’s no getting around this truth: Ultimately, we’re the ones who have to ensure that our kids are safe. But to make certain that happens, we may first have to rein in the primitive part of our brain—where we’re wired to react and protect—so that we can then use the better part of our brain to come up with a good, viable solution.
I love an idea that’s great for everyone, and Sensory Friendly Films are just that.
AMC Entertainment and the Autism Society sponsor a monthly film day so kids with autism can go to the movies – but in a way that’s tailored to meet their needs. During these special showings, some lights are left on and the volume is turned down. Parents are allowed to bring their food since many of their children are on restricted diets. Kids can also make noises and move up and down the aisles—even touch the big screen—if they want. Best of all, no one is shooting anyone dirty looks or calling the usher.
This idea is a win-win for all, especially the following:
Families with kids with autism
Now they can go to the movies without worrying what might happen. If you don’t have a child with special needs, you probably haven’t considered how many places in the community seem off-limits to many families. That’s because parents of such kids are often judged when their child does not behave in a way that’s expected.
Without question, Sensory Friendly Films are great for business. Not only is it good public relations to reach out and acknowledge a special group of kids, but I’m betting that show times for Sensory Friendly Films are not scheduled during peak hours. So, AMC helps families, and at the same time brings in more revenue. Brilliant.
Employment for teens and adults with autism
The huge response to Sensory Friendly Films (they are offered at 67 AMC sites in 36 markets) has provided lots of opportunities to AMC employees to get to know this special population of kids. I’m guessing such rich experiences were a catalyst for AMC’s recent announcement of a new employee program. They now have plans to help integrate teens and adults with autism into the theater’s workforce. How cool is that?
Families without kids with special need
Sensory Friendly Films also addresses these families’ needs. While no one wants to appear unsympathetic to such kids, the truth is . . . most of us go to the theater expecting everyone to sit still and be silent throughout the movie. By offering Sensory Friendly Films, no one has to choose between being supportive of a child who is moving around and making noises or enjoying a movie in a still, quiet environment.
Does this mean that we should always isolate kids with special needs and forgo compassion and tolerance whenever we happen to be in the same place? Absolutely not. But I do think it’s genius any time businesses and support groups work together to meet everyone’s needs.
So why stop with Sensory Friendly Films? How many other businesses could use this model to do something similar?
Just seems like the world would be a little kinder if we continue to find ways to help each other.